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Oberlin Ohio

JoAnn and I walked the gorgeous campus of Oberlin College in Oberlin Ohio while looking into their archives on May 26, 2015.  Oramel Lucas attended college there, both before and after his days of digging dinosaurs in Canon City. We were lucky to have their archivist help us find three hand written “dinosaur digging” letters by Oramel. It  may have been a surprise to the archivist as he graduated there from their school of theology although theologians commonly explored the natural world in those days.  

Oramel, Ira, and the Camarasaurus 

Talbot Hill 

Joseph Gladding (J.G.) Pangborn was a drummer boy in the Civil War who served with the 54th New York Regiment.  After the war he became a became a reporter, working for four major newspapers across the country and in 1876 he became a marketing representative for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe (ATSF railroad.  The trains hired good writers to prepare colorful articles about the west, essentially marketing pieces to encourage tourism. The ATSF railroad had a line that extended up to the Florence area, just east of Canon City. (Bruce 2015)

In the summer of 1878, J.G. or Maj. Pangborn came to the Canon City area where he wrote a number of pieces about the area including one describing the great dinosaur discoveries. Pangborn did not travel alone but brought along his own illustrator, a well known Kansas artist by the name of Henry Worrall. (Taft 1946).  They were in turn accompanied by either some local individuals or visitors who traveled with them on the train. 

Their journey began about “midway in the park we pull up at the pleasant home of the gentleman who is to show us to the top of Talbot Hill”.  Living about midway up the park was the home of Aaron and Lucy Ripley so in all likelihood it was Aaron that gave the tour. 

They left the road and heading west toward “a wall of blood-red rock on the west side of the Park” where they “alight” meaning they were on foot.  

Saurian Hill

The illustration above depicts the blood red hill and an erosion feature called “bottle buttes” illustrated by Pangborn’s illustrator, Henry Worrall.  

The illustration to the left was done though by Arthur Lakes, most likely in 1878 but possibly in 1879. The story of how it was discovered is in the story, Arthur lakes in Garden Park.

The red rock represents fast moving stream deposits from the ancestral mountains that existed long before the dinosaurs. 

The wall of red rocks they encountered along the west side of the valley are known today in this area as the Fountain Formation. These rocks formed when small to large rocks were tumbled, rolling down fast moving streams along the fronts of mountains; mountains that existed long before the dinosaurs found here.  The layers of light colored rock at the top were sand, silt, and clay deposited along the edge of a great seaway being formed at the time, and that would last another thirty million years eventually depositing thousands of feet of rock on top of the layers with dinosaurs.  The rocks in the middle represent the Morrison Formation, the layers of rock deposited between those two events. 

The two men, one standing and one sitting, in the most distant quarry are probably Oramel and his older brother Ira or his younger brother Clarence. Drawing is from the Rocky Mountain Tourist and a careful look at the lower left corner confirms that this drawing was also by Henry Worrall (Pangborn 1878).

Six Foot Thigh Bones

Maj. Panghorn and his team continued their journey up the hill. When they reached the crest of the hill they were; 

choked by the indescribable magnificence of the view, and for the first time we appreciate the sublimity and grandeur of the Sangre de Christo range

A few more steps and we are at the tent of Prof. Cope’s party, and all within and without is heaped-up bones, rocks now, and many of them so perfectly agatized that at a casual glance it would ‘ stagger any but a scientist’s belief that they were ever covered with flesh

Before us are perfect parts of skeletons so huge as to prepare one for the belief that Noah’s Ark was a myth; sections of vertebras three feet in width; ribs fifteen feet long; thigh bones over six feet in length — and the five or six tons of bones thus far shipped East comprising only the parts of three animals.” (Pangborn 1878)

Maj. Panghorn continued; 

“Prof. Hayden, the widely known chief of the United States Geological Survey, upon visiting this place and inspecting these and other parts of the animal, declared it his conviction that the beast must have been fully a hundred feet in length…the parts of animals taken out being remarkable for their clean and perfect solidity

By this time Oramel and Ira had made eight shipments of bones to Professor that included 45 boxes of fossils.  Oramel told Maj. Pangborn that; “between 7,500 and 8,000 pounds of bones had already been shipped“. (Pangborn 1878).

Talbot and Worrall

The three photographs below are the active excavation going on at the Cope Lucas quarries in early 1878.  All three of pictures and the drawing above appear to have been taken from the same approximate position. Additionally the  drawing above and the center photograph below appear to represent the furthest quarry in the exact same scene.  The drawing above is by Pangborn’s illustrator Henry Worrall, leading to the conjecture that he took the photo. 

The pictures below on the right and left are by a local photographer named C.W. Talbot. Stereograph  photographs were very popular with two pictures on a display card. We are displaying one of the two pictures on each card.  A special hand held viewer such as the commonly used Holmes stereoscope would have been used to view the scene in three dimensions which was considered “mesmerizing”.

One half of a stereograph photograph taken by a local druggist by the name of Chalmers W. Talbot who lived in the Canon City area.  He was an entrepreneur who opened a photography business in 1874 and even operated a weather station for the US Signal Corps (U.S. Army).  This picture of the quarry area was taken within a few feet to where the picture to the right was made, but looking more south toward Cottage Rock. Picture courtesy of the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center. 

Taken at the same time the Pangborn team was visiting the quarry.  Key items and people are in the exact same location; for example looking closely you can pick up Oramel standing and pointing at bones with his brother Clarence or Ira sitting.  The illustrator Henry Worrall very likely took this photograph.  It appears that there were seven well dressed visitors, one of them a woman. Standing closest to Oramel appears to be Maj. Pangborn,  to whom he is explaining the bones. The less well dressed man on the right may be Oramel’s brother in law and part time dinosaur excavator Aaron Ripley who I believe guided the team of visitors to this location. 

The second Talbot sterograph image. This picture is looking a little more northerly based on the prominent juniper tree that appears to be the same one visible in 2018. This picture courtesy of the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center. 

Excavate, Package, and Ship

Oramel and Ira continued to excavate, package, and ship dinosaur bones through 1878, in fact Ira shipped bones all the way into early 1883.  After Pangborn and his team visited in early 1878, Oramel and Ira opened up a second quarry location about a quarter mile southwest of where the drawings and pictures were taken. They not only opened a new quarry but found a new skeleton.That fall Oramel would return to Oberlin while making arrangements with Ira for the bones from this new quarry to be shipped during the winter.  Oramel was scientifically observant and identified in a letter to Cope that he believed that a second fairly Camarasaurus was being uncovered at the new quarry.  He also informed Cope that he would use his brother Ira as his agent who would continue work in these quarries. 

Once Cope took a look at what arrived in Philadelphia, he concurred with what Oramel was suggesting; he was not seeing substantial differences between it and the Camarasaurus supremus that had already discovered.  Cope then decided that he already had sufficient material for identification and this new material was not needed.  He decided to sell this second skeleton,  but in the meantime he stored it in the basement of his home in Philadelphia. 

The sale would not occur, at least not in the way Cope was thinking, when he visited the quarry.  Cope arranged before his death in 1897 that not just this specimen and not just the entire Canon City collection but most of his collections would be sold to the American Museum of Natural History because of his fondness for Henry Osborn, the future director of this great museum.  

Ira Lucas was a Civil War veteran who had worked in a field hospital role He served in the same City Point field hospitals where Amanda served in the winter of 1864/65 and Marshall came to visit Amanda in late 1864 seeking relief of the injury he suffered at Cedar Creek. Marshal and Ira had their service in common and probably exchanged war stories in spite of being paleontology competitors.  Photograph courtesy of the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center. 

Cope in his upstairs study at 2102 Pine in Philadelphia, courtesy of the Osborn Library at the American Museum of Natural History. 


Cope traveled through this part of Colorado both before and after Oramel began his work, but he only visited the quarry one time.  On July 26, 1879 he wrote to his wife Annie about his arrival in Canon City noting; 

“Canyon City is a new and rather rough town of small size.  The scenery is fine. I found Mr. Lucas the discoverer of all the huge saurians, an agreeable man and a strict Presbyterian.  He lives with his father’s family.  Seventh day I made a complete survey of the Saurian beds and excavations which commenced 7 miles from town, north and extended 7 miles farther.”  (Osborn 1931) 

Cope had been fairly sick and had stayed in town for about three days.  He continued in his letter;

“ I felt that I was going to have one of my attacks of fever and yesterday I had it sure enough. I slept much and took aconite every hour day and night.”  (Osborn 1931) 

Aconite was a bit of an unusual herbal medicine to be taking. Historically it was used as a poison, poison arrows were dipped in it.  Never the less it was also being used for ailments such as nerve pain, headache, and rheumatism. Cope was customarily known to take self-administered opiates and other strong drugs, such as belladonna and aconite derivatives (Davidson 1997).

When sufficiently recuperated, Cope visited the quarry where he took notes and even drew a map and took notes. 

The map, notes, and letters from Oramel and Ira had been misplaced at the American Museum of Natural History but during a research trip were rediscovered Donna Engard and Pat Monaco of Canon City on a research trip back east in 1989.(Engard and Monaco 1989)

They in turn passed them along to John McIntosh.  These revealed many details about the excavation previously unknown.  For example, by the time the quarry closes 254 boxes of fossils will have been shipped and a total of not two or three but seventeen quarries were developed. The map by Cope below and redrawn by John McIntosh, is not to scale but depicts the major features in the excavation area. (McIntosh, John S. 1998)

Rocky Footing

In March of 1879, the scientifically based U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) was formed as part of the federal Department of Interior. The foundations of this agency wasn’t created out of thin air, it was well rooted in survey work over many years but most recently under the direction of both the Army and the Department of Interior.  Inconsistent work approaches resulted in a decision to combine it under one federal entity. The mission of the USGS was scientifically based survey work but many people recognize the agency for development of one of its first priorities; topographic maps.  Over the next few years the mission of the agency would continue to be clarified and today the agency remains performing many valuable public services. 

Ferdinand Hayden, a friend and ally of Professor Cope was by far the most obvious choice for the first director of the USGS but he was not selected because of some behind the scenes political maneuvering. If Hayden had been selected as the director, money and resources could have been pushed Cope’s direction and his vision of great scientific discovery of new species of animals could have been amplified. Any of the other obvious choices would not swing support his direction.  It was actually the geologist Clarence King who became the first director. He wasn’t interested in administrative type work and only agreed to get the agency up and running, nothing more. The second and somewhat unlikely selection for the second director in 1880 was John Wesley Powell. It was his leadership that had profound impacts on the the agencies future work, including what work was supported in Garden Park.  His allegiances became quite obvious in 1882 when Professor Marsh was appointed chief geologist of the USGS. 

When Professor Cope arrived in late July 1879 he was well aware that his ally Ferdinand Hayden had not been appointed its director and had a sense of potential impacts considering he had received a sizable inheritance from his father in 1875 he had began spending money in an unsustainable way. This must have been in the back of his mind when he was here in Canon City in late July 1879. At this point in his life he was not on as solid a footing as his hated rival Professor Marsh.  Never the less, he was there to ascertain the quarries potential and what the future held in regard to it.  A clue to his thinking is that he currently had enough material for identification of Camarasaurus and the second full skeleton excavated by Oramel and Ira in 1878 was something he was considering selling

The quarries that Oramel and Ira developed would be largely played out (the bones gone) by 1883.  Toward 1883 Ira would begin searching elsewhere in the fossil area including an area down near the old oil wells originally developed by Cassidy.  In 1901 a new team arrived from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History who explored the quarries that Oramel and Ira worked with little success.  On the other hand, the work with all those bones was for the most part just beginning.

Royal Treatment

Henry Osborn was at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) when he and Cope negotiated the eventual sale of much of Cope’s fossil collections with his good friend Edward Cope, including the dinosaurs that Oramel and Ira had collected (April 12, 1897) . The collection of Cope fossils was purchased by the AMNH in 1902 and the bones began arriving in 1904. Under the supervision of Osborn, Charles Mook, with the assistance of a staff of preparators, artists, and editors, began the detailed study and preparation of a manuscript that would have a heavy focus on Camasaurusus.  Osborn felt that in particular this dinosaur was very important and wanted it to receive the attention that Yale had bestowed upon dinosaurs such as Brontosaurus and Diplodocus in the great Marsh publication; Dinosaurs of North America (Marsh 1896).  A part of his motivation was his dislike of Professor Marsh, whom he had his first serious clash with in 1891 (Gregory 1938). Regardless of the reason, he took personal charge of ensuring that the dinosaur bones that Oramel and Ira had collected under Copes direction would receive  royal treatment at the AMNH.  

“The time, energy, and expenditure, involved in the preparation of this Memoir, chiefly on a single Sauropod, is beyond precedent. At many times the solution of the problems seemed impossible. It is a pleasure to dedicate it to the memory of the former President of the Museum, Mr. Morris Ketchum Jesup, who presented the Cope Collection, and bequeathed the funds by which this elaborate research has been carried in and the hundreds of illustrations have been prepared” (Osborn and Mook 1921). 

In 1921, after years of research and preparation work including the dinosaur skeletons Ira and Oramel collected, Henry Fairfield Osborn and Charles Craig Mook produced a beautifully illustrated 120 page manuscript entitled; Camarasaurus, Amphicoelias, and other Sauropods of Cope (Osborn and Mook 1921). 

Drawings and model of a Camarasaurus prepared for Osborn and Mook’s publication are presented below, courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.  

Henry Fairfield Osborn 

Henry grew up in a prominent family in New York and was well educated preparing for a college degree which he pursued at Princeton. He then continued to study both here and abroad in Europe.  It was during 1877 that he participated in field work in Wyoming and Colorado collecting mammal fossils. It was during those time frames that he first sought out the assistance of Professors Cope, Leidy, and Marsh.  He found Professor Cope to be of great assistance and considered him somewhat as a mentor while Marsh was of little help.  His admiration of the work Cope did would have great influence on the dinosaur bones that Oramel and Ira were collecting.  In 1891, Osborn became both a professor at Columbia when it was rapidly evolving into a major university. At the same time he was put in charge of the fossil mammal collection at the American Museum of Natural History.  By 1908 he assumed the position of director of the American Museum of Natural History, a position he held until 1933 where he enabled the worlds best vertebrate paleontology collection to be developed using great paleontologists like Barnum Brown and Roy Chapman Andrews Chapman (Mongolia Expeditions).  Osborn is perhaps best known for the exhibit development including murals, habitat dioramas, and dinosaur skeletons that enamored millions of visitors.

Cope Lucas Quarry Discoveries

The major dinosaurs that had been identified by this time included the Camarasaurus supremus representing the bulk of the collection along with Amphicoelias altus and Laelaps trihedrodon.  The name Laelaps trihedrodon is no longer used for the specimens but in general would be a larger meat-eating dinosaur, possibly something in the Dyptosaurus family. 

A forth type of dinosaur recently identified includes a large plant eating dinosaur called Maraapunisaurus fragillimus previously not known in North America nor from the Jurassic Period (Carpenter 2018). 


Carpenter, Kenneth. 2018. “Maraapunisaurus Fragillimus, N.G. (Formerly Amphicoelias Fragillimus), a Basal Rebbachisaurid from the Morrison Formation (Upper Jurassic) of Colorado (Article, 2018) [WorldCat.Org].” GEOLOGY OF THE INTERMOUNTAIN WEST an Open-Access Journal of the Utah Geological Association 5: 227–44.

———. 2019. “History and Geology of the Cope’s Nipple Quarries in Garden Park, Colorado—Type Locality of Giant Sauropods in the Upper Jurassic Morrison Formation.” GEOLOGY OF THE INTERMOUNTAIN WEST an Open-Access Journal of the Utah Geological Association 6: 31–53.

Davidson, Jane P. 1997. The Bone Sharp: The Life of Edward Drinker Cope. Philadelphia: Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

Dean, Eric T. 1999. Shook over Hell: Post-Traumatic Stress, Vietnam, and the Civil War. Cambridge, Mass.; London: Harvard University Press.

Donald H. Kupfer, Ph.D. 2000. “CANON CITY’S OIL SPRING, FREMONT COUNTY, COLORADO: COLORADO’S FIRST COMMERCIAL OIL PROSPECT (1860); AND THE DISCOVERY OF THE FLORENCE OIL FIELD (1881).” Drake Well Foundation © 2012 Petroleum History Institute, no. Oil-Industry History, Volume 1, Number 1, 2000.

Gregory, William K. 1938. Biographical Memoir of Henry Fairfield Osborn, 1857-1935. Vol. VOLUME 19-THIRD MEMOIR. Washington: National Academy of Sciences.

McIntosh, John S. 1998. “New Information About the Cope Collection of Sauropods from Garden Park, Colorado.” Modern Geology 23: 481–506.

Osborn, Henry Fairfield. 1931. Cope: Master Naturalist; the Life and Letters of Edward Drinker Cope, with a Bibliography of His Writings Classified by Subject; a Study of the Pioneer and Foundation Periods of Vertebrate Palaeontology in America,. Princeton, N.J.; London: Princeton University Press; H. Milford, Oxford University Press.

Osborn, Henry Fairfield, and Charles Craig Mook. 1921. “Camarasaurus, Amphicoelias, and Other Sauropods of Cope.” Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History 3 (part 3).

Ostrom, John H, and John Stanton McIntosh. 1999. Marsh’s Dinosaurs: The Collections from Como Bluff. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Pangborn, Joseph Gladding. 1878. The New Rocky Mountain Tourist, Arkansas Valley and San Juan Guide. Chicago : Knight & Leonard.

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